Laura Harrington’s debut novel makes a powerful anti-war statement, while being entirely supportive of the families personally involved. Alice Bliss is a teenager whose world is turned upside down when her father’s army reserve unit is called up for active duty in Iraq.
I will admit that there came a point when I had to put this book down for a day or two when it became too painful. But Alice called me back. She is so wonderfully vibrant and real, I had to finish her story. I admire the author for her ability to bring the reader so deeply into one girl’s world.
To further tempt you, I thought I would share an excerpt from an interview I did with Harrington, to be published in the June 15th SLJ Teen Newsletter:
What was your inspiration for the story?
My father was a navigator/ bombardier in WWII, flying missions into Germany from his air base just north of Paris. Both my brothers enlisted in the Air Force in 1966. So, while I don’t have a family member serving in the current war, my family has been deeply impacted by war. My father suffered from what they called battle fatigue (now known as PTSD) following the war, a time he would never talk about directly. Nor would he talk about the experiences during the war that had so devastated him. The silence surrounding my father’s war experiences has probably been the single greatest mystery and inspiration in my life. I believe that my fascination with war grows out of my need to understand these experiences and to bear witness to this silent suffering.
Was it your goal to increase awareness of the plight of military families?
Absolutely. And, in particular, to increase awareness of the children who are left behind. Especially the children of Reservists who often feel that not only does no one know their story, no one even knows they exist.
Harrington is a playwright, but this is her first novel. In fact, Alice Bliss was originally a one-woman musical titled Alice Unwrapped, in which Alice was quite different than the small town girl we come to know and love in the novel. It’s a fascinating genesis, and one that the author discusses further in the interview.
Adult/High School–Alice Bliss, 14, lives in an idyllic small American town with her parents and younger sister, Ellie. Matt, her father, loves his work, coaches Little League, joins the army reserve, and is still passionately in love with his wife, Angie. Alice and Matt plan, plant and cultivate a vegetable garden every year, giving them precious time to themselves. Alice’s very best friend since birth is the boy next door, Henry. In January, Matt’s unit is called up for active duty. He is excited; but Angie, Alice and Ellie are horrified, terrified of the unthinkable. While Matt spends six weeks training at Fort Dix, they wait for his phone calls. After he is deployed to Iraq, Angie is paralyzed. She stops shopping, cooking, or cleaning. Alice takes to wearing her father’s blue shirt every day for weeks, but also manages to get her little sister fed and into bed each night, as well as walked to school each morning, with Henry’s help. Their relationship is changing. Henry feels it first, how much he wants to kiss her. Alice turns to him for comfort after Matt is declared missing in action, most likely taken prisoner. The idea that Matt could leave on a bus one day and never come home again seems impossible. But all it takes is a glance at a newspaper to know that this is a tragedy all too many families are experiencing. Harrington turns what could have been sentimental and cloying into a powerful, wrenching story that reads as simple, unadorned truth–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City